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A CurtainUp Review
Ensemble Studio Theatre's Marathon of One Act Plays (Series c)
Each of the three series of the Ensemble Studio Theatre's (EST) 34th Marathon of One-Act plays has adhered to a similar formula: save the best for last. In the previous Series A and B, the strongest plays have generally closed out the evening. Series C is no exception; if anything, it adheres even more starkly to that recipe. The best pieces come after intermission and nearly render forgettable that which has come before.
Let's start this time with the stronger offerings. Tommy Smith's "Zero" is an inventive and sly piece which pits a young architect against his snoopy and seemingly omniscient doorman. Curran Connor as The Architect makes countless arcs around the desk of the Doorman, played by the perfectly tight-lipped and poker-faced Shanga Parker. Over months, the two form a tenuous bond, become enemies, and bond once more on an emotional roller coaster ride that juxtaposes the vulnerable architect against the dispassionate doorman. Mr. Connor rapidly and capably switches up his body language as he strolls around the Doorman; each of his appearances represents a time lapse of hours, weeks, or days.
Jon Kern's "Hate the Loser Inside," the final piece, is both the most popular and best work of Series C. Recalling to some extent the classic I Love Lucy "Vitameatavegamin" episode in which Lucy is hired for a television commercial, "Hate the Loser Inside" features Brad Bellamy as Coach Broadhaus, a local legend of a football coach, fumbling through a commercial for a kitchen contractor. It's the most consistently hilarious thing I've seen on a stage in quite some time, and would easily stand side-by-side with some of the better Saturday Night Live sketches. The hapless Coach Broadhaus, over the course of his career, has inspired and cajoled hundreds of players to reach their peak performance, yet he can't get himself through a "cheap" 60-second commercial without succumbing to monumental stage fright.
The first three pieces are hit and miss for the most part; two have at least something to recommend them. Murray Schisgal's "Existence," the series opener, is an innocuous cornball romp through familiar mockery territory: Upper East Side high society. Richmond Hoxie as Izzy, an aging Wall Streeter, and his wife Lulu (Kristin Griffith), wind up celebrating a purported winning stock trade with backhanded revelations of ghastly family secrets. Ms. Griffith is wonderful as the reality-challenged Lulu. "Existence" is a fun, light farce, with the occasional side-splitting laugh.
Christopher Sullivan's "Carry the Zero" is a sweet coming of age story. Alex Herrald and Megan Tusing credibly portray two high schoolers groping their way through teen rites of passage. Mr. Sullivan, who works on MTV's Made, displays an impressive grasp of contemporary teen language and culture.
In the disappointing "Solar Plexus," Joe (Bradley Anderson) and Stacey (Abigail Gampel) leave a party for an impromptu lesson from a New Age yoga/relationship guru (Diana Ruppe). Playwright Clare Barron attempts to tackle a question of sexual and personal politics, but the comedy is weak and the results dopey and juvenile.
As usual, Nick Francone's sets are impeccable and the directing is consistently sharp. Overall, the 34th EST Marathon of One-Act plays has been a success.
Links to the previous plays: Series B .. . Series
Slings & Arrows-the complete set
You don't have to be a Shakespeare aficionado to love all 21 episodes of this hilarious and moving Canadian TV series about a fictional Shakespeare Company